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keflavik airport COVID-19 testing
Photo: Nurses oversee the COVID-19 screening at Iceland’s borders. A screenshot from RÚV.

Nurses’ Strike Narrowly Avoided

Nurses in Iceland’s public healthcare system will not go on strike today as scheduled. The State Mediation Officer put forth a mediating proposal in the ongoing contract negotiations between the Icelandic Nurses’ Association (FÍH) and the state. The mediating proposal will be presented to FÍH nurses in meetings scheduled today and tomorrow at Reykjavík’s Grand Hotel, who will have until June 27 to cast their votes.

Icelandic nurses have been without a contract for nearly 15 months. Nurses voted down one collective agreement that was presented at the end of April, citing dissatisfaction with the proposed rise in base salary. When negotiations stalled again, 85.5% of nurses voted in favour of an indefinite strike which was scheduled to start today, June 22. The strike would have affected public healthcare services across the country, and in particular raised concerns that Iceland’s COVID-19 border screening initiative, which is overseen by nurses, would be disrupted.

Base Salary Decided By Arbitration

According to a press release from the State Mediation Officer, the two parties have now agreed on nearly all of the contract’s key issues, including a new working arrangement of day work and shift work. They remain divided on one key issue, however: nurses’ base salary. “Per the assessment of the State Mediation Officer, the difference between the contracting parties is profound and it will not be resolved at the negotiation table.” Therefore, the specific points of controversy regarding nurses’ wages will be directed to a special arbitration committee.

Icelandic nurses have long demanded that starting wages within the profession be raised. This stance was apparent in a survey conducted in May. “Nurses are sending a very clear message,” FÍH chairperson Guðbjörg Pálsdóttir stated when discussing the survey results. “They are ready to go quite far to receive a salary that takes into account their education and the responsibility of their job.”

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